Film director Guillermo del Toro has an interest in, and leads the way, in creating cinematic fairy tales for adults (children may be intrigued but have difficulty grasping the visuals/story lines). His latest project has captured glowing reviews (especially from media critics) and brings to mind his equally stunning 2006 classic, “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Both films engage the imagination.
Here del Toro spins a fable blending magic, anger, love, and loneliness, in a Romeo and Juliet love opus between a human woman and an underwater creature (a merman if you will). Though unconvential, the events make a lot of emotional sense. Their partnership is a unified force against detractors ridiculing their “freak” relationship.
Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”) stars as Elisa, a meek mute with a kindly disposition employed at a restricted government facility during the Cold War. Her work requirements are satisfying, and socially her life is pleasantly shared with a couple of pals. Elisa is at ease in relationships with Zelda (Octavia Spencer) a work colleague, and her neighbour who’s an artist (Richard Jenkins). Feeling out of step with society, their kinship is a comforting rampart. Del Toro’s telling blends the dark and light sides of life, balanceing reality and make believe, grounding the plot in a secure foundation allowing free reign for viewer imagination.
There’s buzz about Hawkins being recognized for best actress honors in the upcoming awards season. She’s already nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe, which puts her on track for Oscar recognizion. As in her sensitive portrayal of a physically challenged housekeeper/wife with artistic talents in “Maudie,” Hawkins overwhelms here showing a child like compassion for others in compelling situations. Eyes are drawn to her in every scene she appears.
The Shape of Water, a beauty and the beast fable, plays out lifelike in the inner soul. Viewed through imagination, Del Toro’s film minimizes the villainous aspects of a monster, showing him as a creature with sensitivity responding to the gentle nature of a woman’s yearnings. There’s horror, there’s humor, and a story of an attraction that transcends the difference between a human and a swamp dweller. What is normal? Del Toro’s film obliterates the need to differentiate. It’s a simple love story.